Winging It

In Dayton, Ohio, a struggle to save the Wright brothers’ aviation factory

Midwest News Preservation
Un-piloted 1900 glider crafted by Orville and Wilbur Wright. (Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons)

In the birthplace of aviation, local preservationists and one famous historian are trying to get an airplane museum concept off the ground.

The nonprofit National Aviation Heritage Alliance (NAHA), a National Park Service–affiliated nonprofit, manages an eight-county, aviation heritage area centered around the City of Dayton, Ohio. The area’s attractions celebrate the legacy of the Wright brothers, the pioneering fliers of one of the first working planes.

Now, the group is pushing to turn Orville and Wilbur Wright’s Dayton factory into a museum. In a video, below, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and author David McCullough puts out the call to save the factory, where that famous plane was assembled.

The $4 million initiative seeks to preserve and transform the 54-acre area for airplane production, now abandoned, into a historical site where visitors can see how aircraft were built in the early 20th century.

NAHA plans to acquire the property before the year’s end: So far, the group has raised around $2 million, the Dayton Daily News reports, with the city putting down $500,000 and the state, double that.

Like nearly every Rust Belt city, Dayton was hit hard by deindustrialization and harder still by the 2008 recession. With major employers like National Cash Register (NCR), the Mead Paper Company, and General Motors downsizing or gone altogether, the city’s population has declined by 100,000 since the 1960s.

Yet city leaders believe that aviation tourism, bolstered by strong transportation links to Indianapolis, Columbus, and Cincinnati, will draw visitors to Dayton to learn about airplanes and you know, spend some money, although the economic impact of heritage tourism is unclear.

For more details, see the National Aviation Heritage Alliance’s website here.

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